Feast of All Saints
This weekend the church celebrates the feast of All Saints, rejoicing in the holy lives of all its members who have died and are forever with God.
It is one of the oldest Christian feasts. The thought of honoring holy men and women who have died in grace is very old itself. An ancient Christian writing from the second century AD speaks of paying homage to saintly people who have gone to the next life.
Even the vigil for this feast has a history, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. It would be difficult today to say what is the purpose of this vigil, or this holiday as it has become. It never was a time to shrink away in fear in the face of devils, witches and wicked persons. Rather, it was a happy time to mock evil, because evil has been conquered by holiness.
The first reading for this feast is from the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse as it was called in older Catholic translations of the Bible.
No book in the New Testament is more filled with symbolism and mystery, and none written with greater imagery, than is Revelation. Certainly, it depicts conflict between good and evil. After all, the conflict between good and evil is a fundamental reality of Christian life.
However, in the last analysis, its message is not of doom and death, but of victory and peace.
The reading today is about heaven, and about the saints. In the day in which Revelation was written, a time when numbers demanded none of the exactness that we associate with mathematics today since then so few could even count, let alone calculate in terms of higher mathematics, numbers had a more symbolic value.
Twelve was the most perfect of all numbers and represented perfection. Twelve tribes composed the people of Israel. Jesus called Twelve Apostles, and so on.
The number 144,000 is achieved by multiplying 12 by 12, as if to underscore perfection.
In the story, 144,000 souls are with God. It is not a narrow number, a warning of exclusion. Rather, it refers to the lavish mercy of welcome, drawing all humankind to faith, and with God’s grace, many respond. They come from everywhere, gathering before the throne of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God.
For its second reading, the church this weekend offers us a selection from the first Epistle of John. This reading extends the theme, proclaiming how much God loves us. He has made us nothing less than children of God.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the beautiful passage called the Beatitudes.
In one sense, the Beatitudes are commandments. Certainly they are revelation. They tell us who is saintly, and for whom will everlasting life be the reward. It will be the peacemakers, the humble, the truly god-fearing, the pure in heart, and those who endure the abuse and trials of this world.
This ancient, wonderful feast calls us to redouble our Christian commitment. Stand firm with Christ in this life. Everlasting life with Christ will be our reward.
Revelation was written in a time when Christians were beginning to undergo great trials. Persecution was underway. It was a frightening time for followers of Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel hints at the conflict between good and evil as it speaks of those who suffer and of perseverance.
The church urges us to see in the holiness of persons who lived with the Lord and who have died in the Lord a great example.
If we too are holy, then we too can anticipate life forever with God in Christ. True, discipleship can be daunting. But, God’s grace and strength will flood over us, if we ask for God’s help.
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